WASHINGTON -- Jon Stewart learned a new reason Wednesday to respect the heroes of 9/11 who have spent years lobbying Congress to help ailing responders: The process is unimaginably draining, especially for people who are ill.
Stewart explained that fact to a roomful of responders and reporters with more colorful language.
"I want to congratulate them for their grace. They have borne this burden with integrity, they ask only for what they need," Stewart said at a press conference where nine lawmakers spoke.
"And I want to congratulate them for getting through these press conferences and meetings, because, oh my God, is it fucking boring," Stewart said. "It’s like, I can’t even believe it. Like, if we don’t get back on the bus and get some Boone’s Farm wine up in there..."
Stewart made light of his daylong sojourn to Capitol Hill at that moment, but he also made it clear that he is deadly serious about passing a new, permanent 9/11 law before the current James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act expires. Key portions of the health care program end at the end of this month.
The real test, Stewart said in the middle of a day during which he was swarmed by reporters and cameras, was whether the responders and supportive lawmakers could carry the momentum forward. He promised to help, though he left "The Daily Show" last month.
"I’m not on television anymore, but I sure as hell know a lot of people who are," Stewart said. "At a certain point, there are a lot of congressional doors that are closed because those individuals do not want to be shamed publicly. Well, guess what? If you don’t sign on to this type of thing, it has to be known. And the reasons for it have to be spoken out loud and in public."
So far, about a third of Congress has signed on to to a permanent extension of Zadroga, but that's still well short of the number required to ensure it passes. Some lawmakers are pushing for a shorter-term, less expensive bill.
The Senate sponsor of a permanent bill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said she hopes her reluctant colleagues get the message.
"Our dearest and best hope is that Jon will not have to come to Washington again," Gillibrand said. "These men and women should not have to come to Washington to demand that Congress do the right thing."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.